Presented on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus.
The title of this talk comes from a letter in which William Dean Howells congratulates Clemens on his 1903 anti-vivisection novella, A Dog's Tale. Mother dog Aileen Mavourneen's first-person account of a brutal experiment that killed her puppy is indeed heart breaking, and it gave much-need support to the movement against animal experimentation. In depicting animal subjectivity and challenging widely accepted social hierarchies, A Dog's Tale, like so many of Twain's literary interventions against the norms of his day, was ahead of its time. But also, Twain's stance about vivisection and the status of animals in society was a part of a larger conversation that was taking place at the time on both sides of the Atlantic. This paper will situate Twain's stance in the context of the vivisection controversy, including some leading voices who directly networked with the famous author to solicit support for the cause, and it will connect Twain's prescient portrayal of animal voice and identity to modern-day animal rights activism and post-humanist philosophy.
Emily E. VanDette is Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where she teaches American literature and women's writing. As a Quarry Farm Fellow in July 2017, she conducted research for a scholarly monograph about the literature of the early animal welfare movement in the U.S., which includes a chapter devoted to Twain's vivi-section writing and network. She is also currently working on a critical edition of a 1904 anti-vivisection novel Trixy by Twain's contemporary and celebrated American author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.